Bernie Koppel is a charming guy onstage in Stage West’s current production, Viagra Falls, playing until November 16th. Offstage, the 77-year-old actor is just as charming and personable.
“When she says ‘tart’, don’t take it personally,” he told my date Sarah as he dug into one of Stage West’s delicious desserts as a post-show snack. It was the first of many offbeat and amusing comments Koppel made during our half hour chat.
Viagra Falls is the story of Charley Millhouse (Lou Cutell) and Moe Krubbs (Kopell). The two widowers get together to celebrate Charley’s birthday, and Charley is determined to invite over a hooker to celebrate. Enter Jaqueline Tempest (Teresa Ganzel), girl for hire with a soft spot for older men. The show has a number of big laughs and a lot of heart.
“The relationship between Moe and Charlie you could say is latent homosexual. Their wives just died, they are in advanced age, they take care of each other and love each other. It is actually a love story between Charlie and Moe. They have done great things for each other, they argue like a married couple. Obviously there is love between them,” Koppel said. “Young people enjoy it as much as older people because it relates to everybody. Is everybody free to be showing their personal parts? I don’t think so. People have trepidation about being naked. You can be very comfortable being naked with someone you trust, but with someone you’ve never met, and this strange woman coming in, no. Once we get to know our life partner we are cool because there is that element of trust that happens ideally in every relationship.”
When asked what appealed to him about doing the show, Koppel joked, “the cheque!” He went on, “I’d heard about it, and it rings a bell. I am 75 and you have these issues. Will I be able to perform? Will I be attractive enough? I know I myself am attractive enough because I have a young wife and I have a ten year old and a six year old, two beautiful boys. Some people may think it is an anomaly to have two young kids at my age but they are beautiful. It is wonderful.”
He did have high praise for his co-stars, especially Lou Cutell, who co-wrote the show in addition to performing in it.
”Lou is a sweetheart, and I have to take my hat off to the guy. The little fart wrote this play! He obsesses about the play, every time we come off he goes ‘you know that line, we started too early.’ I say ‘get off my ass Lou!’ It’s his baby, he is 77 and this is his big deal in life.”
Bernie Koppel’s 50-year career reads as a history list of classic television shows. It would be impossible to list his impressive resume here. While best known as Dr. Adam Bricker on The Love Boat, he has been seen on shows ranging from The Doris Day Show, The Odd Couple and The Six Million Dollar Man to Charmed and Scrubs. He played multiple characters on Bewitched, Jerry Bauman on That Girl and Siegfried on Get Smart.
“Love Boat was my reward for putting on the moustaches and accents over the year.
Bewitched was a party on the set every day. Elizabeth Montgomery, everyone thought she was just the cutest person. She was very bubbly.”
Bewitched is also notable due to several cast members being gay. Of course, in 1969 the world was a very different place, and hiding their sexuality took its toll.
“Paul Lynde (Uncle Arthur) was a victim of the conventions of the time. Paul could not be open. One of the results was that he was a very unhappy human being because the pressure was a horrible, torturous thing for him. He would have a drink at our wrap parties or Christmas parties and go into attack mode as compensation for being suppressed. I always wanted to stay away from him when he had a drink, but I felt bad that he couldn’t be comfortable,” Koppel recalled. “Dick Sargent (Darrin) was gay and was very quiet about everything. Maurice Evans (Maurice), also gay but under the radar. Just about every one of the producers with the exception of Aaron Spelling were predominantly gay. But it was 30 years ago so it was hush hush.”
Koppel is thankful to be around to see how much things have progressed in the world.
“I did a dramatization of a book called The History of Shadows. It referred to gay men in the 1930s and 40s who had to keep everything a secret. Their jobs were in jeopardy. There was an actor in a movie, a film composer, a costume designer and a director. It was fascinating that these guys lead their lives under the radar. Now it is a healthier situation. We should all be very grateful for that.”
Koppel also gave us an interesting look at how TV royalties work (a big issue in last year’s writer strike). In the 1960’s there were no such things as VHS tapes, let alone DVD’s, so consideration was never taken for the potential revenue that shows would generate years later. With The Love Boat Season 1 now out on DVD, you would think Koppel would be receiving some nice fat cheques.
“Before 1974 you were paid for six reruns and no more. After 1974 you are paid in perpetuity but on a diminishing scale. So I am getting these gigantic cheques for $3.20, $2.48, once I got a cheque for 90 cents! Not even enough to buy something in the dollar store.”
Don’t worry about Bernie Koppel however. Smart planning has ensured that, regardless, he and his family are taken care of.
“I have invested well, as opposed to the Ed McMahon nightmare. The man was making a big living for thirty years he just wasn’t paying attention. So many actors get that big paycheque and then no paycheques and they blow it. I have too much knowledge of things like that, and it is so sad. Some people are broke after making big salaries. I have the wisdom of experience to not do stuff like that.”
September 11th – November 16th, 2008